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Board of Education Discusses Budgets, Freightway and More at Final Meeting of the Year

tree snowAt the December 16th meeting of the Scarsdale School Board, members closed out 2019 with a full agenda, including the development of the 2020-2021 school budget, the proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Scarsdale Schools Education Foundation and a discussion of the possible impact of development at Freightway on the school district.

Prior to the meeting, the Board met with a group of high school students in the Learning Commons, part of a twice-yearly effort to invite feedback on the best student experiences at SHS and student perceptions of school deficiencies for future improvement. The Board did not specify many of the specific issues discussed but did indicate that student wellness has been a rising priority on students’ minds.

Board members reported attending a high school student government house meeting, where they were exposed to the student planning process, focusing on community building, social engagement initiatives, a community dinner raising money for JDRF, and spirit week at SHS. At the elementary level, board members visited Heathcote School and witnessed an environment “alive with learning.” The vibrant atmosphere was marked by emphasis on critical skills, like brainstorming and design thinking, facilitated by tools like writing notebooks, in advance of advanced curricula, like digital citizenship.

Freightway Development Plan

Though development of the Freightway site was not on the official agenda for the meeting, considerable time was spent discussing it.

Board President Scott Silberfien opened the meeting with a lengthy Board President’s statement about Freightway.

He said, “While the project is fully within the purview of the Village Board, and not this board, we are keenly aware that any approved development at Freightway could impact, and maybe impact significantly, the schools. Since March 2017 when the Village convened the Freightway Steering Committee the Board and District have been kept abreast of timelines and developments ….and have been in communication with Village leaders regarding the Freightway development process including the exchange of data concerning our enrollments, including the enrollments from specific areas and also from specific buildings in town that may be relevant to this development.

Before last week’s public forum and following it, we are intent on working with the Village Board to ensure full and accurate consideration of any potential impacts on the schools from any Freightway development. Whenever the Village considers developments, there are potential impacts on the schools. These include but are not limited to capacity whether that be the total enrollment, the number and size of class sections, support services or others. Other impacts needing to be reviewed and discussed would obviously be things like impact on taxes, zoning, transportation and the like to ensure that Scarsdale continues to deliver the highest quality education to all of our students. We are committed to continuing our dialogue with the Village Board and the community on this very important topic.

To that end, at our meeting on January 13, 2020 the members of the Village Board’s committee spearheading this work, Mayor Samwick, Deputy Mayor Veron and Trustee Arest will here to provide us with an update on their work, answer questions from the Board and the Administration and potentially discuss with us what additional data and other information we need to be sharing between our two entities while we consider this work. While answering questions at the public forum last week, Mayor Samwick indicated his intention to engage in a dialogue with the developers regarding the scope of what is needed as it relates to the number of parking spaces for Scarsdale residents and the desire to reduce the number of residential units. While we await the resolution of the 60-day public comment period set by the Village Board and the outcome of those discussions with the developers this board has indicated its willingness to share any data that the Village Board feels it needs at this point to move the process along.

Assuming a residential development project remains on the table this board and the district will deepen their engagement and study things like the capacity issues, impacts and the like. I do not want the board or the school district to spend hours of our time, work with our lawyers on things like zoning if the Village Board decides it does not see a path forward on the residential development plan. So our next step is to welcome the Mayor, the Deputy Mayor and Trustee Arest to our meeting on January 13 with additional steps to be discussed by the Board and the administration in the weeks and if necessary month to follow.”

In the public comments portion of the meeting three residents spoke about Freightway.

Bob Harrison of Fox Meadow Road said it was good the Board of Education would be working with the Village and had invited members of the Board of Trustees to attend an upcoming Board of Education meeting. He expressed concern about the number of proposed rental units and their impact on school enrollment.

Judy Kerr from 15 Fox Meadow Road expressed concern about the estimated number of apartments at Freightway. She asked the Board to look at the number of students at Fox Meadow Elementary School and asked for a more comprehensive analysis of enrollment at all elementary schools, the middle school and the high school. She mentioned Short Hills, New Jersey where after some new development, far more students entered the school system than estimated by developers. She said these types of developments are “attracting students in high numbers,” sometimes four times as many students. She said, “Don’t let our school district become a victim of its reputation and success.”

Another resident, Jin Chai Wei Shang of 14 Rochambeau Road said she came here “because the schools are amazing” and because it looks like a “village in a park.” She said, “I am trained as an economist and when I put the numbers together I panicked.” She continued, “My concern is the risks.” The point is, “once the condos are built, the children come…. That is going to introduce a lot of adjustments, most likely “disorderly adjustments.” I am asking you to undertake an independent study of enrollment projections taking into account the unique features of the Scarsdale School District before allowing the project to go further.” She continued “I urge the board to look at threshold indicators for the need for a new school. Also look at the class sizes and the need for busing. Condos attract people who make temporary plans….this will impact the middle school and the high school.”

Responding to the public comments about Freightway at the conclusion of the meeting, Dr. Hagerman said, “It sounds like people would like to see some strong modeling. Unfortunately Scarsdale is somewhat of an anomaly. Some of the algorithms that are used are used for “anywhere USA.” Until the units are really built and people begin to move in, it is going to be hard to understand the full impact. Also – the Village needs to do their due diligence before we start our modeling to determine the impact.” About capacity, Hagerman noted that building needs have changed over time. He said, “all classrooms are not created equal.” He indicated that the district has different space needs than it did previously due to different types of programming and common learning spaces. He said, “buildings are not the same.”

Lights at Butler Field

Maroon and White President Kate Conlon provided the board with an update on the campaign to finance permanent LED lights for the newly resurfaced Butler turf field. Conlon reported the project has reached 95% of its $850,000 goal, which it hopes to achieve by December 31st, with strong momentum thanks to a generous $200,000 contribution from Maroon and White.

2020-2021 Budget Development

Monday’s budget discussion included a historical overview of the budget process and future financial projections. Discussing the budgeting process, Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey reviewed some of the ways the district seeks to reduce expenses, including the self-funded healthcare plan, staff optimization, maximizing state aid, timing of facilities and technology projects, cooperative agreements with the village, cooperative purchase and advancements in technology.

For this year, of note was an increase in the number of special education placements which caused an 11% increase in the Special Education budget from $13.7 mm in 2018-19 to $15.3 mm in 2019-20.

Mattey projected that the fund balance as of June 2020 would be $21,605,585 which is $634,885 lower or a 2.85% decrease from the June 2019 fund balance of $22,240,470.

Looking forward, Mattey reviewed several five-year budget projections, including all the assumptions underlying the numbers. It was interesting to note that in all the plans, the district anticipates decreases in enrollment over the next five years from 4,751 students in 2019-20 to 4,456 students in 2024-5.

Commenting on the budget, Board Member Ron Schulhof asked Mattey to supply reasons for any increases over 10%. About the model, Schulhof said he would like to know what the district is doing with these numbers, since numbers fluctuate and it is a very lengthy process to create these projections.

Complying with Changes in State Election Law

Changes in State election law require a new board policy regarding student voter registration and pre-registration. The policy falls into a broader district goal of promoting civic mindedness. The law, stemming from Governor’s office, encourages 16-17 year-olds to fill out their registration paperwork in advance, so that they can be automatically enrolled upon their 18th birthday. The board seemed uncertain about how to implement such a policy. A relatively simple communications strategy, with emails and paper letters sent out to students before their 16th and 17th birthdays, would likely do the trick. However, ensuring the long-term salience of civic awareness in students would require that this new policy be integrated into programming on active citizenship.

New Initiatives

New initiatives included identifying struggling readers K-12 and responses to intervention (RTI) cohesion across the elementary schools. Superintendent Hagerman noted there would be more intentional use of data and promotion of rigorous reading strategies in middle school and high school, as opposed to confining reading lessons to elementary levels. This kind of policy acknowledges reading as a valuable skill for professional development in Scarsdale graduates.

Another new initiative is a public calendar outlining world holidays, observances, and their implications. These details are provided to faculty for instructional purposes, to facilitate diverse classrooms and acknowledge observances to promote the most inclusive learning environment possible.

Written Communications

The board shared written communications that had been shared via email. Concerns included a question of whether Columbus Day should be nationally recognized Indigenous Peoples Day. Other constituents recommended adding more options to the middle school language curriculum, including Mandarin. Finally, there were concerns that the school district address stereotyping in young girls and that schools should develop curricula that expose girls to all kinds of jobs.

Scarsdale Schools Education Foundation

The board reviewed the Scarsdale Schools Education Foundation Memo of Understanding. The Foundation funds programs and facilities outside the District budget in three key areas: research and development/innovation, technology, and physical infrastructure. The Foundation has been working with the BOE to identify the programs that would best enhance and inspire learning and teaching. The Foundation spearheaded an initiative to revitalize the courtyard adjacent to the new Learning Commons and Design Lab to pave walkways and a garden in a previously overgrown, unused space.

Monday’s meeting discussed the annual funding of Innovation Grants. The Fellowship for Social Entrepreneurs is a grant program open to all SHS students, not just those enrolled in the new AT Entrepreneurship course. Students can fill out applications as either individuals or teams, orienting their work towards the end goal of a business plan or a physical product to be reviewed by the entrepreneurship panel for future funding.

More

In other business, the Board agreed to direct their attorneys to take action to recover tuition payments for an unnamed student.

The Board accepted a gift of $1,576 from the SHS Class of 1950 to assist students who need funds to participate in extracurricular activities.

The Board had to table several items due to inclement weather conditions. These included high school start times and school safety security management updates. Recently, national studies have been examining the impacts of the average start time for public high schools, which is 7:59 am on student performance. The next board meeting will discuss start times for SHS.

The next meeting of the School Board will be held January 13th, 2020. Members of the public are always invited to be present and to speak at designated times on agenda items or other non-personnel related matters. Watch the meeting here:

Kindergarthen Enrollment for 2020-21 begins January 15

The Scarsdale School District offers online Kindergarten registration. Current residents who expect to have a child attend Kindergarten during the 2020-2021 school year are encouraged to complete this process between January 15 and January 31, 2020. Although prospective Kindergarteners may register at anytime prior to the start of the school year, completing this process early ensures a smooth screening and placement process. Children whose fifth birthday falls on or before December 31, 2020, may be registered for the 2020-2021 school year.

Please visit www.scarsdaleschools.org/registration for instructions on how to register online.

Enrollment in one of the five elementary schools (Edgewood, Fox Meadow, Greenacres, Heathcote, and Quaker Ridge) is determined by the neighborhood in which you reside. If you do not know which elementary school serves your neighborhood, please call the District Registrar, Nunzia Mauro, at (914) 721-2444 or send an email to registrar@scarsdaleschools.org.

Carly Glickenhaus (SHS ’16) is a senior at Georgetown University studying economics and security.

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